#133 ~ The Sister

January 2, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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The Sister by Poppy Adams, read by Juliet Mills

Virginia Stone, a 70 year old spinster, lives alone with her moths at Bulburrow Court, her family’s mansion.  She is an eccentric old woman who grew up during WWII and its aftermath.  She is peculiar, most especially about time and tea.  To say she is set in her ways would be an understatement.  When her younger sister Vivien returns to Bulburrow Court after leaving the family home and her sister for London nearly 50 years earlier, Ginny reflects on her life, from her alcoholic mother  Maud, her lepidopterist father Clive, who mentored her in the study of moths, and her love for her absent sister.  She approaches her history with the same unemotional scientific eye that she uses with her moths and other insects.  It doesn’t take long to start questioning Ginny’s reliability as a daughter, sister, and narrator.  This novel held my interest from the beginning with Vivi’s tragic, near-fatal fall and the numerous mysteries and questions that continued to come up to the surface.

Poppy Adams is an extremely detailed writer.  Her use of entomology and the study of the moth clearly stem from a great deal of research.  While Ginny loves to go into lengthy and often gory detail about her science, the minutia she shares with the reader provides important insights into Ginny’s morality, mental state, and obsessive compulsiveness. There is an interesting passage about a colony of ants taken over by a butterfly larva that still has me thinking about Ginny and what the truth about her family might have been.

This is the first audio book I truly enjoyed.  No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and Savannah by John Jakes (which I couldn’t finish) were complete flops for me – both because of the narration.  In addition to the story itself, The Sister had what the others so far have not – the perfect reader.  Juliet Mills’ voice and reading was such a complement to Ginny that I can’t image there being a more perfect vocal performer for the novel.   The way she enunciated “pupal soup” throughout the novel was both sickening and dead on for Ginny’s character.  She expertly read dialog for the other characters as well.  There was a scene where Maud, drunk, could not hold her tongue to Ginny about her opinions of Albert, Vivi’s boyfriend.  That exchange between Maud and Ginny was wonderful and riveting.  Although I’m tempted to read the physical book the next time around, I can’t imagine reading it without hearing Mills’ voice.

This novel, because it is narrated by Ginny, does not provide answers to all of the questions that are raised.  Who exactly is the sister?  What exactly did the rest of the family and the village of Bulburrow know about Ginny that she did not?  If she has been mentally ill her entire life, why in the world would Vivi and Albert entrust her with their family in the way that they did?  Did she truly carry on Clive’s work after he retired? What exactly went on with Dr. Moyse?  At first, this made the ending fall a little flat for me.  However, upon further reflection, it would be impossible to know what Ginny did not and this is made even that much more difficult as she had a talent for blocking out the unpleasant portions of stories and conversations.  Truly, this novel is open-ended, allowing the reader to discern the truth from the delusion.  The Sister invites additional readings.  It would be very interesting to read this a second time to see what I might have missed the first time.  While under no circumstances would I ever sit down for tea with Ginny Stone, I’d love to study her in more depth.  She is a fascinating character whose voice, like that of Vida Winter from The Thirteenth Tale and many of Patrick McGrath’s narrators, will stay with me for a long time to come.

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To buy book in audio, click here.
To buy this book, click here.

#128 ~ The Reluctant Widow

December 7, 2008 at 9:23 am | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Reading | 9 Comments
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The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

Elinor Rochdale, the daughter of a disgraced member of the aristocracy, is headed by coach to a rural village where she has been offered a position as a governess for a wealthy family.  She is bored to tears by working as a governess, but since her father’s suicide, she has no other choice.  Her extended family has been less than gracious to her.  As she steps off the coach, a driver asks her if she is the one who answered the advertisement in the paper.  After she says yes, she is shuttled into a wonderfully luxurious carriage and taken quite a distance.  Although it is very cold outside, she is snug in the carriage and quite surprised that the family hiring her would go to such lengths to see that she arrives in comfort.  What is not yet known is that the driver was talking about an entirely different advertisement.  Mr. Carlyon  posted for a woman to marry his disreputable cousin, Eustace Cheviot.  This misunderstanding takes Elinor’s life into quite an unexpected and mysterious direction.

Carlyon, a wealthy landowner and Eustace’s reluctant guardian.  He is under suspicion of acting in his own best interests, not his cousin’s.  Because of Eustace’s near constant drunkenness and gambling problems, there wasn’t much in his estate that wasn’t owed to debtors.  Still, Eustace held title to Highnoons, an estate he inherited from his mother, that was near Carlyon’s own estate.  Highnoons was no price, however.  Eustace let it fall into disrepair just as he had his own young body.  As such, Carlyon was desperate to marry Eustace off, so that he would inherit nothing from the young man upon his death and thus be free of suspicion.  When Elinor walks into his home, he sees her as the answer to his situation and will not take no for an answer.  Despite her protests, Carlyon knew that she would accept his offer after he learned that she grew up in privilege.  He may have found an inheritor for Highnoons, but he did not gain the return to a more trouble-free life. Elinor proved to be a tough customer, not easily won over like most others.  Time and time again, Carlyon had to prove himself by her.

The Reluctant Widow is full of interesting characters, humor and farce.  Elinor is a strong woman who, despite everyone’s deference to Mr. Carlyon, tries to stand up to his requests.  She cannot understand why others, even those who have just met him, are so eager to follow his commands.  She enjoys the fight every bit as much as he does.  Nicky, Carlyon’s younger brother, and his dog Bouncer provide a lot of laughs as this young man tries clumsily to live up to his brother’s reputation.  I enjoyed watching Elinor’s relationship with Nicky grow throughout the novel.  Despite having married into the family only a few hours before becoming a widow, it is clear that Elinor was the right fit for that family.  Nicky needed her solid feminine influence just as much as she needed his company to keep from growing too morose and frightened over the situation at Highnoons.

This is the first novel I have read taking place in England’s Regency period and I absolutely loved it.  It would be the perfect book to get lost in while curled up in bed or on the couch.  I thought I was taking a chance on this book because I’m not one who normally reads books classified as historical romance.  I’m afraid I may have underestimated the genre.  Not all romances are equal and this is far from the a Harlequin title and more engaging to me than something by Danielle Steel.  After just one novel, I can see her quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors.  I am very excited that SourceBooks is reissuing many of Georgette Heyer’s 50+ novels.  If you haven’t read Georgette Heyer or would not normally pick up a historical romance, I strongly encourage you to give The Reluctant Widow a try.

This review is lovingly dedicated to Dewey, a woman who helped make the book blogging community what it is today.

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A special thanks to Bethany at B&b exlibris for designing this beautiful graphic.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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